I accepted the challenge. The training was far more intensive and encompassing than an individual manager has access to, especially in the case of Pan Am. Never really ending -- through company sponsored university management courses, networking with executives throughout the corporation -- in three years most managers were writing their own leases from scratch; developing and managing request for proposals; performing rates analyses; developing business plans; and in addition to running their own airports, consulting to major facilities throughout the country. It just wasn’t the type of experience you get working for the public sector.
While the American Association of Airport Executives and other organizations do a tremendous job of helping airport administrators develop, they just can’t match the intensity of a service company inclined to develop its only asset -- its people.
While all of us in the industry know of at least one “what’s wrong with this picture” administrator, the vast majority are competent, dedicated managers that perform to the best of their ability. The question becomes, What can be done to enhance their abilities and improve efficiencies? Privatization, though not the only one, is definitely an option.
In between stints with different privatization companies I returned to the public sector to manage the largest reliever airport project in the country at the time. Having completed building a new airport with a major bureaucracy, I broached the idea of privatizing the airport with my board and the county. Walking with a newly appointed board member in Reno after a AAAE-sponsored meeting on the subject, I asked him what he thought.
“Worried about your job?” (Again with the threats.) Apparently he had no knowledge that it was my idea. When the idea was subsequently nixed, I left and started my own management firm, 15 years to the day I mentioned it to that group of Auburn fellows.
Having been involved in the development of management or lease agreements and subsequent airport development of over a dozen airports with three different privatization firms, I can categorically state that there is no such thing as a cookie cutter approach to privatization. Each airport’s lease agreements, rules, business plans, etc. have to be tailored to each facility, as there is no one correct answer to what airport privatization is.
Question is, What do you want it to be?
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About the author
Scott Fuller is chairman & CEO of Airport Technologies, Inc., a multi-faceted business development consulting company. In the privatization sector, Scott has held the positions with American Airports Corporation and Pan Am World Services, Inc. In the public sector, he was director of aviation for Gwinnett County Georgia, and has held director positions under airport authorities structures. He is an instrument-rated pilot and former aeronaut for NBC radio.